Many breast cancer patients use marijuana to ease the symptoms of the disease and its treatments, but few tell their doctors, according to a new survey.
According to an online anonymous survey of more than 600 adults with a cancer diagnosis, 42 percent reported using some form of marijuana for relief of symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, pain, insomnia, anxiety and stress, according to the report published Tuesday in Cancer.
They are not using it to get high, but to control the side effects of breast cancer or the treatment for breast cancer, said study s author Dr. Marisa Weiss, founder and chief medical officer of Breastcancer.org and an oncologist at the Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. It can be a pretty rough ride. People are working hard to keep going and to have a reasonable quality of life. To take a closer look at breast cancer patients who use cannabis, Weiss and her colleagues sent a 47-question survey to 612 adults — 605 were women and five were men. The other two preferred not to answer gender. While 39 percent said they had mentioned cannabis to their physicians, just 4 percent of the 306 participants who asked questions about the drug had turned to their medical doctors for information. What information could be received from other sources, including sites or dispensaries staff. Eighteen percent turned to a family member or friend. Most of them said they were unsatisfied with the information they received.
Out of the 42 percent who said they were using cannabis, 78 percent said they were using it for pain relief, 70 percent to help with insomnia, 57 percent to relieve anxiety, 51 percent to deal with stress, and 46 percent to stop nausea and vomiting. Most said they used marijuana during treatment.
The respondents reported using multiple sources of cannabis: Seventy percent said they used edibles, and 65 percent liquids or tinctures. Only over half of the population used vape pens and almost half smoking cigarettes. They also reported using three to four different products on average, on average.
Many are telling their doctors about it, said Weiss, and many are getting information, as well as suggestions, from family members. The majority of participants, 70 percent, believed that cannabis should be viewed as a plant-based medicine, that natural products are better than chemicals and that the benefits of cannabis outweighed the risks. Moreover, 49 percent of cannabis users said that they believed medical cannabis could be used to treat cancer itself.
Although acknowledging that cannabis may bring relief to breast cancer patients, Weiss is concerned that patients aren't consulting with their doctors.
Some of these products can interact with treatments they are taking, and there's a safety issue there, she said. Can a person get relief from his symptoms without interrupting with treatments? One concern, says Weiss, is that the liver is involved in the metabolism of many treatments as well as of cannabis. We don t want to overtax the liver, she said.
It s also not known how cannabis interacts with medical treatments, she added.
The new study is very interesting, said Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of breast surgery at Mount Sinai West in New York. Our patients have been using marijuana for cancer years and years, she added. So we knew it helps with symptoms. Bernik said the new report showed that not a lot of patients are talking to their physicians about this, Bernik said. And that means that the physicians can t take cannabis into account when they are deciding doses of cancer drugs, she added.
It may alter the metabolism of these medications when getting chemotherapy is really important.
More research is needed on drug use during cancer treatments to find out interactions and dosing, Bernik said.
It also points to the importance of patients being open with their doctors, said Bernik. And doctors need to specifically ask about it.